Council Has Again Nudged Back Timeline for Hundreds of “Affordable” and Social Homes in Inchicore

The council’s timeline for applying for planning permission for a big housing development in Inchicore has been pushed back again.

It’s now expecting to apply in May 2022, shows a presentation to councillors at a meeting of their South Central Area Committee last week.

The development at St Michael’s Estate, which is being called the Emmet Road Urban Quarter by the council, would be a mix of “cost-rental” – a type of homes meant to be more affordable than regular market-rate homes – and social homes.

At the meeting, Sandra McAleer, the council’s project manager, said staff are still working on designs but they’ll soon be at what’s known as “design freeze”.

That means they’ll have a masterplan ready to go out to public consultation, she said, probably in February next year.

The council has done two phases of public consultation on the plans already, she said. The latest ended in November – with display boards at Richmond Barracks and an online survey, and surveys around the neighbourhood, and asking people to spread the word.

Covid has made it difficult, she said.

They will during the next public consultation put up more detailed displays, and hope to set up the models in Richmond Barracks and have a controlled environment, and a team to talk people through it. “And let the community come in.”

Why the Delays?

In December 2020, a council spokesperson said: “We hope that the planning application will be ready in April 2021, it may take longer.”

In August 2021, a council spokesperson said by email that it expected to be in a position to submit a planning application in December this year.

At the council meeting on 8 December, McAleer, the senior engineer, said its target was now to file for planning permission with An Bord Pleanála in May 2022.

That’s subject to approvals from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Housing, she said.

In July this year, a council spokesperson gave a couple of different explanations for the delays up to that point.

“It is very big and complicated project that requires very significant consultation with the various stakeholders including the local community,” they said in an email.

“Covid-19 restrictions has made this work much more difficult,” they said, which is why they hadn’t met the timeline.

Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty said yesterday that he thought issues around design and viability were why it’s taken longer to get to this point.

What Kinds of Homes?

In a written question at the full council meeting on 6 December, Moriarty had asked what standard the homes at Emmet Road were being designed to.

He also asked how many of the apartments would be studios, one beds, two beds and three beds.

“That obviously feeds into a wider issue of what the cost-rental is,” he says, meaning whether it’s seen as stop-gap housing or long-term sustainable living.

And indicates how the council has been looking to balance the need to make sure the rents for the scheme, which are based on the cost to build it, are affordable while also making sure it is high quality.

In March 2018, then Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy issued new apartment guidelines, including new “build-to-rent” standards, that overrode the higher standards for rental apartments that councillors had set in development plans.

At the meeting of the South Central Area Committee last week, McAleer said that the council had gotten a legal opinion around the issues of standards and which it could build the project to.

“And we are unable to contravene our own city development plan,” she said.

In other words, as the council is the applicant for the Emmet Road project, it has to follow the higher standards in its own development plan.

Moriarty, the Labour councillor, had also asked what the breakdown of studios, one-beds, two-beds, and three-bed homes would be.

Architects are working to provide a mix of studios, one-, two- and three-beds, the written response says. “More details on the above will be provided in Quarter 1 2022 when the preliminary design goes to public consultation.”

At the South Central Area Committee meeting, McAleer, the project manager, said again that they didn’t have any breakdown of the mix of homes yet.

There will be three beds, she said. “But whether they come in under the cost-rental or not is difficult with the rents and then what is affordable under that.”

The three-beds could all be in the social-housing part of the development, says Moriarty.

If there are only one- or two-bed cost-rental apartments, then that means fewer families would live in the cost-rental homes, says Moriarty.

The Emmet Road project is just the first of what is hoped to be many cost-rental schemes but Moriarty is worried about the precedent that would set, he said.

How Many?

In the Dáil on 16 November, the Minister for Housing, Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien, said that while the designs weren’t done, the current plan is for 484 apartments at Emmett Road.

“Of which circa 375 units will be designated for Cost Rental homes and the remainder for social housing,” he said.

However, there have been whispers around the neighbourhood that the council is planning way more homes than that, said Moriarty.

The numbers are changing as the designs come along, said the council chief executive’s response to one of Moriarty’s questions. “But it is expected that over 500 no. residential units will be proposed for the site.”

Said Moriarty at the meeting: “Are we looking at five? Are we looking at … you know, there were other whispers then that it could be 600?”

He was asking as it’s the biggest question that comes up and he wants to be able to go back to people with answers and encourage them to back the project, he said. “I think there’s a bit of a vacuum there.”

McAleer, the project manager, said there’s no final design yet – so there are no final numbers. It could be about 500, she said. “What it will be dictated by, at the end of the day it’s down to planning. It’ll go to the board.”

“And it’s all about optimising the site, to make it a sustainable development,” she said.

“So as we work through that, conscious of the efficiencies and the affordability around the scheme, it’s a mix of getting the best design and the unit fit within that,” she said.

Author:

Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

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